French phone carrier Orange will soon be giving its customers in Africa and the Middle East free access to all of Wikipedia. The site will eventually be accessible in about 20 countries, serving what Orange says will be about 70 million total users. To access the site, users will need a web-enabled phone with an Orange SIM card, regardless of whether it's prepaid or has any sort of data plan; they'll be able to get to Wikipedia either through the browser or a special Orange widget. Orange and the Wikimedia Foundation are also looking into other ways to provide the content, including SMS.
This agreement follows a 2009 partnership between Orange and Wikimedia, which allowed Orange to integrate Wikipedia pages into its mobile channels for European users. In Europe, this content was ad-supported; in Africa and the Middle East, Orange is counting more on using the content to build brand loyalty. Since the company says many users own SIM cards for multiple carriers, it hopes that adding Wikipedia to its service will get people to stick with Orange. Wikimedia, meanwhile, has said that Wikipedia is a "public good" that this partnership will disseminate to millions of new readers.